PULLMAN – Washington State will be eyeing both internal and external candidates as it searches its next athletic director, but the school is stressing quality rather than quickness. WSU isn’t in any particular hurry to replace Bill Moos, who left to take the same position at Nebraska on Sunday.
“You could do it quick, but I want to make sure we spend the time to do it right,” WSU President Kirk Schulz said Tuesday afternoon during a press conference. “And that’s going to be critical for us.”
Schulz outlined a vague timeline for when he hopes to have the next AD in office. The school will enlist the help of an outside search firm, but state law prohibits that from happening for at least a few weeks. That search firm, and a seven-person search committee Schulz announced Monday, will then identify a list of potential candidates.
If it all goes according to plan, Schulz will have the school’s new athletic director named by approximately Feb. 1.
“We are going to look nationally for the absolute best candidates, whether they’re in our backyard or whether they’re somewhere else, it doesn’t make any difference,” Schulz said. “So there’s no hand-selected set of two or three people we’re going to consider and we want to throw a broad net out there and we want to get candidates that come from a variety of different backgrounds.”
In a wide-ranging press conference that lasted approximately 40 minutes, Schulz shared with reporters his vision for the school’s next athletic director. Integrity is as vital a trait to the WSU President as it is to Cougars football coach Mike Leach, who lauded Moos on Monday for his honesty and morality – characteristics that aren’t always easy to find within upper administration in college athletics.
Leach probably relayed that message to Schulz when the two met for more than an hour Tuesday morning. And the president presumably took Leach’s words to heart. Schulz believes it’s especially critical to “have good personal relations with your football coach, your men’s basketball coach.”
He convened with a handful of WSU coaches on Tuesday – men’s basketball coach Ernie Kent was on a recruiting trip, but offered to fly back immediately – and many of them also placed a premium on integrity.
“Again and again today … integrity is really important,” Schulz said. “Somebody that’s got the coaches’ backs and will support them when they need support. That was number one.”
Although Schulz didn’t strictly say WSU will only consider sitting athletic directors, he maintained it’s important the university finds someone who won’t have to learn on the job. He wants experience.
“I don’t think this is an athletic director job that we need somebody to learn on the fly,” Schulz said. “I think we need somebody that’s going to be able to come in and be experienced. As a colleague of mine said, when you sort of move from one presidency to another, you don’t learn to be a president, you have to learn the institution. … So I just want to make sure our AD comes in as somebody with some real experience.”
Someone who’s spent time as an AD at a fellow Power Five school could be beneficial for WSU, but Schulz says that will be neither a priority or a requirement.
“I think we want to cast a broad net,” he reiterated.
Third on Schulz’s checklist will be fundraising. The president commended Moos for the job he did in that regard, but emphasized that it’s essential the university maintains an aggressive approach from a revenue standpoint.
“If we look out there nationally, we’re never at a point where we can say we don’t need these facilities, we don’t need to do these things for our student-athletes,” he said. “Resources continue to be important and I want to find somebody that can continue that upward trajectory or accelerate it quite a bit from where we are now.”
The incoming AD will inherit his position with the athletic department in a sizeable financial hole – and will be responsible for shoring up a deficit that Schulz reported at just shy of $8.5 million.
The school’s annual operating debt had grown to $13 million, so WSU has already wiped out $5.5 million of that, but the president has a goal of erasing another $1.5 million in the upcoming fiscal year.
“You all have seen that we do have some budget challenges as an institution, as a whole and not just in athletics,” Schulz said. “It costs us some amount of money to put out the competitive sports that we have at WSU to compete in the Pac-12. So there is some floor you have to be at just to be competitive.”
That deficit might be even lower if revenue gained from the Pac-12 Conference matched the initial projections made by WSU long before Schulz was hired as the school’s president.
“While we’ve exceeded some lower level expectations, I think the Pac-12 Network is still not providing the sort of dollars that other schools in the Southeastern Conference or the Big Ten Conference get from their conference network,” Schulz said. “This is a concern of the Pac-12 presidents.”
John Johnson, WSU’s senior associate AD who was appointed by Schulz as the school’s interim, sat beside the president during Tuesday’s press conference. On a short-term basis, Johnson says the athletic department will continue to use the formula that’s made WSU successful to this point.
“Bill would often say, and we would all agree, that we have as good a staff as there is in the United States,” said Johnson, a Spokane native and Eastern Washington graduate with plenty of ties to the area. Johnson’s wife, Lisa, is the women’s golf coach at Idaho. “… Taking over the job, it’s really pretty easy and we’re going to continue and maintain the momentum that we have. We have a blueprint that we’re following.”
Johnson won’t be in the pool of candidates when WSU selects its AD, “for obvious reasons,” he said. “Typically in searches, whether it be coaches or other administrators … if the interim person is eligible, other folks may not apply.”
Schulz also addressed and shot down rumors that there may have been friction between him and Moos. The president didn’t directly answer a question about a report circulating that he’d denied a contract extension for the former athletic director.
“I’ve seen the different reports that there was this conversation or there wasn’t,” Schulz said. “We’re just going to look forward and I’m worried about finding the next athletic director. I’m not going to worry about the stuff out there.”
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